Saturday, December 8, 2012

Momentary Heroes

Disclaimer:  I am very aware that the experience I am about to describe below is not necessarily typical of all similar situations or families.  Please enjoy it anyway.

We took a family vacation last week.  My son is three.  The vacation involved travel in cars, buses, trains, airplanes, and a cruise ship, sleeping in a hotel, and for a little extra spice, a seven-hour delay in a very small airport.  After hearing that, you would expect that I am about to go on a short, comical rant about the challenges and stress of travelling with a small child.   In this case, you would be wrong.

Most any kind of movement from point A to point B with a child is challenging. For that matter, most anything with a child is more complicated than most anything without one.  That's just how it is, and as a parent you learn to accept and adjust to that fact.  So on our vacation, we went to bed early, and we woke up with the sun.  Our time on the beach was not spent laying on a chair with a frosty drink, but playing football with a coconut and taking turns going in the water since the waves were too scary for little man.  We had to rent a car with room for a car seat.  There were no leisurely meals.  There were no quiet moments.  We had very tired arms and backs from carrying backpacks, beach bags, and a sleepy boy.  It was trying.  It was fantastic. 

I imagine there are many adults without children who watch travelling families and thank their lucky stars that they are not going through the same experience.  I'm not going to deny that there are some times I wish I could be travelling without the added responsibility for someone else.  But an unexpected perk that I really came to appreciate on this vacation is seeing a beautiful, big-hearted side to a lot of adults that I would otherwise never see.   

What I expect to see when travelling is a mass of other hurried, self-absorbed people, and mildly polite customer service helping me get where I need to go.  But when a wide-eyed little person is holding my hand, all of the sudden I see amazing, kind, empathetic people, travelers and service staff alike, that are going out of their way to make sure he is happy and comfortable.  I can't even count the number of smiles, giggles, high-fives, silly questions, and sacrifice of time and effort that people gave.  Many of them were employees who were on the clock, but an impressive amount were other people in some stage of travel that could have just as easily walked right past or stood next to us in silence.  The five-seconds I had to smile and say thank you to each of them is never enough to show the gratitude that I feel for them making him happy. I think that is more than a fair trade for the challenges we had to face, and am kind of sad that once he's grown up I won't get to see that side of strangers anymore.  But I can choose to be one of those momentary heroes to someone else, and I think I would like that.

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me." - Matthew 18:5

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's all in the eyes

There are times when I catch a glimpse of these eyes looking back at me from a mirror and it startles me.  You probably don't see it, but since I've been staring back at these eyes for more than three decades, I notice the changes.  Sparkle.  Dull.  Bright.  Bloodshot.  Baggy.  Lively.  Exhausted.  I see it all.

I have so many blessings.  Some days I can choose to look at all of my busyness as managing an overabundance of blessings.  Many days I am much less optimistic.  No matter how I choose to look at it, I am tired.  Not just long-weekend of college all-nighters tired, but something rivaling the first three months after birthing a newborn tired.  The kind of tired that comes from trying to do it all for too long.

But I'm also tired of feeling this way.  My usual reaction to long stretches like this is to try to fix it all at once.  No patience to do it right.  So this time, I am going to systematically attack it. I am not going to try and get sleep, work less, relax more, exercise more, stress less, and spend more time playing, cooking, and reading, all in one day.  Small goals this time.  Once I accomplish one, I will be better equipped to accomplish another.

I'm starting with rest.  As much as I am tempted to move straight to the other more fun fixes, I am being smart enough to realize it just won't work without rest.  So, next week, I am setting a time to try and leave the office no matter what is left undone, and I am setting a time that my body needs to be in bed every night. Neither of those sound like they should be very hard for most people, but since I have not been able to accomplish either for about four months, they may not be very easy for me.

We all have to start somewhere.  I choose Monday.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Little Victories

My mom is staying with us for three weeks.  It is admittedly some work to arrange the house and schedule ahead of time to accommodate a guest for that amount of time, but it is a welcome change.  It is 1:00 on a Friday, the groceries are put away, a loaf of banana bread that I baked is cooling in the kitchen, lunches are eaten, my son is sleeping, and I'm sitting here with music, a cup of tea, and my blog.  Win!

Visits like this one mean that my camera is never far away from my side.  Since our camera is on a slow, sad journey towards the electronics recycling bin, I imagine I am going to be frustrated with many of the images that I take. But I have started saving for a big-girl camera (one that is so cool it has an extra lens), so I know that better picture-taking days are ahead.  In the mean-time, I am excited to tell you that a picture I took several years ago when the camera was still new has been posted by someone other than my family.

The Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. publishes a quarterly magazine with  articles about current events in Norway and in the US.  For the fall issue, they requested "readers to send in photos of places or things in Norway that inspire them."  Since I have spent a lot of time vacationing in Norway with my family, I had a lot of pictures to consider.  I will save you the suspense, I did not actually get published in the magazine, but they did include my picture in an online gallery of reader-submitted photos.  I'm pretty sure that they probably included any photo sent in that was of good enough quality to post online, but I'll take every little victory I can get.  The photos aren't numbered in the gallery, so I've posted it with this blog for you to enjoy, but I would recommend spending a few minutes on the gallery, there are some beautiful images there, and I'm proud to be included among them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A different kind of church

Sunday mornings have never been about sleeping in around my house.  Except for instances of college, illness, or vacation, Sunday mornings have been up-and-at-em time for church.  Today, both my husband and I are under the weather.  Not enough to stay in bed, but enough not to bring our germs to church.  Which is good, because since my son is feeling just fine, staying in bed is not an option anyway.

So after breakfast today, I went out for a walk.  It's a sunny, cold morning, enough that I could cover my bed-head with a hat, but not so cold that it was unpleasant. I haven't been exercising much lately because of my work schedule, so it's just as well that I wasn't up for a full jog today.  With some good tunes in my headphones, turned down just low enough to hear the birds, and some alone time to hear myself think, I got to spend some time churching in a whole different way.  I missed seeing my church family today, but sometimes it's good to change it up a little and see things when it's quiet.  Happy Sunday, all.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Power (?)

I took a few minutes in between cooking and laundry, ironically enough, to read an article in the Chicago Tribune today about power.  The article, "Women and Power", explored the definition of power that is met by the women on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list, and whether Forbes' definition of "money, access, and connections," is really the measure we should be using.  Not surprisingly, most, but not all, of the women on the list have more money at their disposal than the rest of us.

Of course, first there had to be some talk about the disparity between men and women, the difference in the standards to which they are held, the corporate boy's club, etc.  I didn't find this as interesting as I did the quotes from a few very intelligent women that were interviewed about what they thought of this list.  First, a woman named Nilay Yapici, who is a "postdoctural fellow in the laboratory of neurogenetics and behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York."  I'm going to go out on a short limb here and guess that this woman is brilliant.  While her point of view that there should be more scientists and researchers on that list is certainly biased towards her profession, I think she is spot on.  She asked, "Who is really powerful: the person who gives the money, or the person who has the idea and makes the discovery?"  According to Forbes it's the money.  But I tend to agree with her underlying point, the people that make it happen aren't given nearly enough credit.  Obviously the research doesn't exist without the funding, and having the position to control where the funding goes gives that power, but shouldn't the brain that solves the problem get some too?

Next they asked psychotherapist Simone Kornfeld, (again, probably pretty smart) about supermodel Gisele Bundchen holding the number 83 spot.  First she noted that while Bundchen may be a very savvy businesswoman, her presence on this list is an acknowledgement of the "reality that beauty is power."  Whether we agree that it should be or not, I would bet that most women who grew up in this American society would have a similar reaction to mine: smirk.....pppfffttt.......shake of the head......sigh.....ain't that the truth.  But where Simone Kornfeld goes next fascinated me.  The article says that having Bundchen on that list "probably provoked the most eye rolls."  She says, "We push women to have beauty all the time, and then we get mad at them when they do."  It's such a sad statement, but I believe she is right.  Girls are pushed to reach an impossible standard, and when 99% of us can't meet it, we respond with envy, anger, gossip, and rejection.

I will admit, I am happy to be nowhere near the top 100 list.  I don't want the power to make the decisions that those people have to make.  I don't want to spend hours on my appearance every day with the worry that I would be caught with a bad hair day.  But of course there is some awe (envy) in watching these power players live out their lives in very public fashion.  I think that I'm mature enough to be done worrying about meeting societal standards that I can't/don't want to meet, but I won't pretend that I don't slip sometimes and fall to the temptation of making fun because the internet makes it easy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


We've all had those moments.  The ones where a small smile crosses your face and you know that moment, no matter how ordinary, has been impressed in your memory to last a lifetime.

Like when I was a freshman at Indiana University, on a sunny afternoon during finals week, and a gathering of people ended up on the roof of Briscoe Hall for a study break.  At the moment a few people started to dance around to Brown-Eyed Girl, and everyone joined in just because, I remember stepping back and looking over that scene, realizing it was a snapshot in time I would never forget.  "Click"

Fast forward a few years to tonight.  My son lounged in the bathtub, playing with his boat, singing loudly along to a song called "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman.  The refrain goes something like "Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship His holy name.  Sing like never before, oh my soul, I worship Your holy name."  He makes up his own live rendition, but it's close enough.  Watching that cute little dude sing at the top of his lungs with no fear or embarrassment, to music like that, well, that's a moment I want to hold onto forever. "Click"

Dear God, in 15 years when that cute little dude is sauntering in past curfew and giving me attitude, please, please help me remember that moment.

Friday, August 24, 2012

People Watching

For several years I've been in restaurants, catching flying splatters of food and asking my child to sit still and eat, while I enviously eyed those headphone-wearing, laptop-toting, coffee-drinking solo patrons relaxing around me.  Tonight I am one of them, and I have to say, it's just as awesome as I imagined.  These are the types of things I took for granted before I lost the option to finish a cup of coffee while it is still hot.  So here I sit, ignored by the constant flow of people coming and going, and have very wisely switched to decaf.

Even though I am attempting to "escape" for a little while, I notice that I keep getting distracted from my solitary screen-staring by the real life going on around me.  The young couple with a new baby and a two-year-old taking turns eating and parenting, strained smiles and sleepy eyes.  The very serious-looking teenager sitting with her parents and talking about very serious-looking things.  The twenty-something guy who breaks into a grin as he texts or tweets or posts from his cell phone while waiting for his dinner.  The fellow laptop guy who asks me to watch his stuff as he gets up from the table, since I must be much less likely to swipe his things while I am busy with my own.

Then there are those that catch my attention because they hit a little closer to home.  The high-pitched story-telling I can hear from the kindergartner talking to her mom about school.  Watching her bounce around her table and eyeball my coffee as her mom coaxes her back.  I can't help but smile at her, which I'm sure isn't helping mom's case.  I always find it comforting when I see other little people floating around and other parents futilely trying to pull them back, because at least I know it's not just me who can't do it.  I also find it both comforting and sad to hear the exasperated mom in the bathroom with two girls under 6.  Comforting because the words coming out of her mouth are so very similar to the ones I have heard myself using, sad because they are words like stop, no, child's name in an exhausted whine, repeating the same commands in a louder voice in the hopes that maybe it just wasn't loud enough the first time, etc.  The ugly is always uglier when I see it reflected by someone else.  Thankfully it is quickly followed by compassion and a vow to not be the mom that reminds other moms to stop being so cranky.

We could all learn a thing or two from each other.  I raise my cup to you, exasperated bathroom mom, and hope that you can find yourself restfully pondering other people someday soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Something from nothing

Back in April I spent a Sunday afternoon re-potting some houseplants that were long overdue for new homes and dirt.  I am so happy to be writing with good news.  All of the plants are happy and well, and it is still calming to me to know that they have recently been re-potted and the ever present to-do task is done for a while.

First, the most impressive before and after plant.  


And after:

I'd say this one is thriving in it's new home.  And since I'm spending so much time at work lately, I guess it's nice to have it there with me.

But the most exciting progress is with the plant that I named the "5-foot-tall palm-looking-thing," because I still have no idea what the real name is. This is the plant that I couldn't bear to part with even though it clearly was not doing well.  I followed my husband's advice to lop off the top and put it in water and see if we could get the top to grow roots or the trunk to grow sprouts.  The top sat in a vase of water for at least six weeks. It wasn't droopy, but it wasn't growing, either.  Then the trunk got moldy under the plastic bag and nothing else happened and I had pretty much given up on both.  We got back from our summer vacation to Virginia in mid-June to find that the top in the vase had finally sprouted a single, white dot of a root.  Now there is a whole web of roots in the water and I think it is finally ready to have a home in a pot of dirt.

The trunk is even more amazing.  After a few weeks we basically stopped watering it, because the trunk was clearly not going to grow anything.  Probably the only source of water it had was the occasional glass of water being poured in by my three-year-old for fun.  About two weeks ago my husband very excitedly told me that something had sprouted near the trunk.  I have no earthly idea how this thing sprouted new growth from below the dirt with virtually no water, but it did.

The trunk on "lopping day"

And the amazing little sproutlet today:

 I thought I was going to end up losing one plant, and now we've managed to make two.  Never count out the underdog!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Keeping it simple

A handful of my mom-friends have spouses that travel regularly for work.   There are a multitude of single parents out there who always take care of their kids on their own.  I have nothing but the utmost respect and awe for all of them, because on the rare occasions that my husband is out of town for a few days, it gets challenging around here.  One positive thing for me, though, about solo parenting for a brief amount of time is that I allow myself to shut off the angry gnome and the to-do list, pretty much because there is no choice.  So even though it might appear to be hectic, it actually kind of calms down for me mentally.  But during this last week while hubby was away, I began to consider the simple things in my life that would disappear if I had to parent on my own for longer than a few days.

  • Clothes without wrinkles.  This requires getting laundry out of the dryer, folding, and hanging as soon as it is done.  That rarely happens even with help.
  • Meals made with more than four ingredients.  I barely even wanted to bother with cooking fresh vegetables, which adds two minutes to the cooking routine.
  • Sleeping more than 5-6 hours a night.  Again, I find that challenging as it is, and it would only get worse.
  • Gardening, weeding, watering, pretty much anything that requires regularly tending to the nature outside of this house.  
  • Watching tv that is not animated.
  • Shopping for myself.  Internet all the way.  Maybe it fits, maybe it doesn't.
  • Printing the pictures I take.  No chance.
  • Keeping plants alive.  What's the problem, I just watered you last month?
  • Feeling relaxed.  Ever.
To all of you who do this on a daily basis and do it so well, many, many kudos to you.  Hubby, I appreciate all that you contribute to this organization and would like you to consider signing another long-term contract. You don't need any vacation time, though, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

More than enough

I have reached my limit before.  In many ways, at many different times in my life, I've hit that point where it was very clear to me that whatever my limit was, I had found it.  I am confident it's not the best way to handle it, but it takes that point of explosion before I am able to finally hand over the controls.  This time, the limit reached was in regards to too many things.  Obligations, commitments, chores, tasks, work, hobbies, all of it.  It has been a frequent pattern of mine.  I say yes, I plan more, I underestimate the amount of rest I need, and it all goes great until it doesn't.

The past few weeks have brought some changes.  Work has gotten busier and later, time has decreased, stress has gone up, balls have been dropped.  Never in my life have I just completely forgotten plans that had been made.  I might confuse dates, times, need to look at the calendar a few extra times, cancel on short notice, but never just forgotten.  Until I did.  That was the limit this time around.  A kick-to-the-gut announcement that this just can't continue.  So I started making changes.  Things that I wouldn't even consider discontinuing a few days prior were suddenly the things that had to go.

I heard a story a few weeks ago about an Olympic athlete and the after-training recovery he endures.  Rather than ice packs or ice baths to soothe muscles and joints, he goes into some kind of cryofreeze chamber.  For 30 seconds, it gets so cold that the body abandons all hope for the limbs and pulls all the blood flow into the core.   When he comes out of the chamber, the blood that rushes back into the limbs has gone through a filtering process that has removed much of the lactic acid that causes soreness and swelling, etc.  I think it sounds absolutely crazy, but I like the metaphor that it creates.  I am going through my own similar process.  My limbs are important to my body, just like many of these to-do's are important to who I am.  But in a crisis, those to-do's need to be abandoned to take care of my core for a while.  And when I'm ready to start reaching out and getting back into some of those things, the energy I am able to put into them is increased ten-fold.

I am getting a lot of positive reinforcement that I am doing the right thing.  Have you ever had that experience where you hear something you've never heard before, and then all of the sudden it keeps coming up?  Ever since I decided to start pruning things, I've read blogs, seen pictures, heard stories, had discussions, all about exactly this topic.  And every decision I make to reduce the list makes me feel a little bit better.  I know I am doing the right thing, as much as I wish I didn't have to let some of these things go.

One of the blogs I read makes the amazing point that sometimes you have to get rid of some of the extraneous good things to make room to really enjoy the important good things.  That is a great explanation for myself of what I am trying to do.  I have been blessed more than I can ever understand with so many things.  Everything I am pulling back from is important to me somehow; I don't want to let it go.  But if I can't  truly be in the present and enjoying any one thing because I am focused on trying to juggle 50 things, then there doesn't seem to be much point in doing any of them.

I am on the right track and feeling better.  The long-term challenge will be maintaining a lower level of stuff so that I can go through smaller cycles of building and pruning instead of hitting the wall and sliding downward.  I'm not ready for that challenge yet.  For now I just have to focus on enjoying the important good things...

 ....and saying goodbye to some others.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

...and then stop thinking.

I went for a run tonight with no distractions: no music, no GPS, nothing.  In the absence of distraction, my brain was overflowing with things I didn't want to think about, including the desire to be done running.  I have no idea how far I ran or how long I was gone.  But after about halfway of whatever that final distance was, I was too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, yet not tired enough to quit.  So I kept going until tired was winning.  And then I went a little more.  In total brain silence.

In my life leading up to this year, I have never considered myself a runner.  I was a two-sport varsity athlete for four years of high school, and couldn't run long distances.  I kept in on-and-off shape in college, and couldn't run long distances.  I played beach volleyball for six months a year for five years of adulthood, and I couldn't run long distances.  I have been exercising relatively regularly for about seven months now after a two-year parenting hiatus, and all of the sudden, I can run longer distances.  It's certainly not magic.  I've been working hard, losing weight, building muscle, so it makes logical sense that it is improving my distance running.  But after a lifetime of defeat, I cannot wrap my brain around this new ability.

As I sat stretching and recovering, I considered what I just did, and was really fascinated about the idea that when I stopped thinking and kept pushing, it just worked.  Much of what I have been doing the last seven months has been P90X, which has done amazing things for me.  In the yoga workout, there is a point where you are standing tall on your toes and reaching toward the ceiling.  To help keep balance, Tony Horton (the guy responsible for the P90X workout), says "Don't think about your feet on the floor, think about your hands in the air.  And then stop thinking."  And it works every time.  I go from wobbly and shaky to stiff as a board, just like that.  The power of anti-thought.

Am I on to something here?  Is this what I need to do in other situations too?  Consider parenting.  A good friend asked me how it works, how you are able to put it all aside, the exhaustion, frustration, scheduling, etc., to be a parent.  I think about childbirth, sleep deprivation, hour-long temper tantrums, balancing stressful work days with calmer family time, and I know I have used that same strategy.  Too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, and not tired enough to quit, so I just keep going.  I think this is a solid strategy for sports.  For other areas of life, I'm not so sure.  But it's an honest strategy, and I would hazard a guess that I'm not alone in using it. Unfortunately, it works well for the short-term, but completely unravels in the long haul.  It's helpful when your newborn is crying at 10 pm, 2 am, and 5 am.  Don't think, just do.  It's not helpful when your schedule is so full that you forget the plans you just confirmed 24 hours ago.  Must think, can't do.  There's a balance there somewhere that I just haven't found.  Better go for a longer run.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maybe next year

This was supposed to be it.  Right now.  Over the past few years, every time I uttered the words "Well, I guess we can't right now, but next summer we should (fill in the blank here)," I was talking about this summer.  Three summers ago I was pregnant.  Two summers ago I had a wobbly, nap-taking, one-year-old. Last summer I had a determined, quicker-than-lightning, two-year-old.  But this summer, this summer, I have a child old enough to safely join in most activities and I am so very experienced at being a Mom that it should be easy to schedule life in order to accommodate anything.
.....Is there a font for sarcasm?  I guess not.  You'll have to improvise.

The air in my house is thick with laters, not yets, and soons that are looking for a place to land.  My son doesn't take very kindly to hearing those words, and I really can't blame him because I don't either. The current focus of my impatience is our garden.  I was so looking forward to the flowers we were going to plant, the landscaping we were going to complete, and endless summer nights of relaxing on our newly-painted deck enjoying the view.

At least the deck is painted.

I don't consider our yard anything out of the ordinary when it comes to the amount of work required to maintain it.  It takes quite a bit of time and effort throughout the spring and summer, but for anyone with a suburban yard who doesn't employ landscapers, that seems normal to me.  And I enjoy doing it.  But the time just isn't there right now.  Every year we research, measure, sketch, plan, and we end up weeding, pruning, watering, and wishing.

I suppose I should be grateful this year, as we sit in the middle of one very long Midwest drought.  Just keeping the few perennials watered enough to stay green is a nightly task that would take much, much longer  if we had planted everything we had wanted.  But seeing all of the empty, dry beds of dirt every night does not give me peace.  I recognize it is more frustrating because it is a symptom of my larger issue with scheduling, but that perspective doesn't put color in my yard.

However, we did manage to try one new thing this year that isn't dead yet.  Back in March we placed an order for a native plant kit from Conserve Lake County, an organization that works towards land and water preservation and conservation in our area.  The kit arrived just after we came home from our June vacation, thanks to some customer service and a purposely delayed shipment, and we were able to plant it right away.

When it comes to planning a garden, it doesn't get much easier than how they set it up for us.  It came like this.....

.....with a little map like this.....

....and once we got them all in the ground, we had ourselves a little area of life that had a plan and purpose:

They look a little tiny and sad in these photos, but a few weeks later, the plants are taller and thicker and generating new sprouts, so we may well be on our way to something successful.  I will wait a while before posting updated pictures; right now there is not much more to show.  In theory, there should eventually be flowers and butterflies, which will make for much more exciting images.

I'm pretty sure these are all going to come back next year, as long as they grow and get established right now.  So next year will definitely be the year that our yard is going to look great.

It's no wonder I am a Cub fan.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I get by with a little help from my (online) friends

This post is a part of a blog carnival with the new online community, and is sponsored by P&G.  Head on over to the site to take part in the discussion about motherhood and online communities, and you will be entered to win one of five P&G gift baskets valued at $250.

How the online world has helped me as a mom

As a kid, days lasted forever.  The time from any day of the year until Christmas felt like an eternity.  Summers lollygagged along, hours of the day were spent doing nothing and being perfectly content with that.  Impressions of the world were permanently stamped on my brain, and are ones that I can actually recall as an adult.  Fast forward to today, and it seems that if I blink too long, a month will have passed and I won't even remember what I had for breakfast.

The pace of life as a parent is hard to describe to anyone who has yet to experience it.  You hear the snide remarks about never sleeping in again, trading in Foo Fighters for Twinkle Twinkle, losing softball for little league, and the ever dreaded "You think that's bad, just wait!"  But I know now that I never had a complete understanding of just how easy it is to fall into a fast and furious whirlpool of scheduling until I had my own child to revolve around.  He is about to turn three, and it took until about six months ago when I finally popped my head out of the water to look around and realize how much me and my life have changed.

My husband and I have never really lived quiet lives.  We worked, played sports, had far-reaching circles of friends and family, were active in church, and generally lived in an on-the-move schedule.  Once my son was born, that schedule hit a brick wall, got swept up into a bag and shaken around, planted, and grew into something even bigger and faster than I ever knew existed.  Calm is preferable. Busy is ok.  Overwhelmed is not.  The lines between each of those is very fuzzy, but with help of a friend's perspective (thanks!) I'm finally understanding what an important determining factor is:  time to ponder.

When I have time to think, reflect, and absorb the happenings going on around me, I have a sense of calm.  Even if it is busy, as long as I can carve out that time for review, things feel in control.  I have a handle on what is going on.  I can enjoy, or not, and react.  When the to-do list is so long that I am blinded to everything other than getting the tasks completed, discontent sets in.  It might sound counter-intuitive, but the time I have spent online, when handled correctly, has helped me to ponder.

When I had an infant and was in a state of complete sleep deprivation and a daily schedule merry-go-round, Facebook kept me connected to the world I felt so far from.  I could share with my friends and family, keep up on some of their lives, all without the worry of the stains on my t-shirt and whether my brain could even form a complete sentence.

When I had a toddler and was completely perplexed on how to handle that new little person, I started reading websites geared towards parents.  I was interested to read the developmental milestone information, different tips and theories, any tools I could find to navigate this stage of parenting.  That's the time that started to notice the negatives of too much of that type of reading.  Comparing parenting styles can be a very judgmental, self-depreciating, negative thing if you aren't careful.  Parenting ideas are as different and varied as the kids being discussed, and it is easy to question of you are making the right choices.  Being a mom is hard enough, there is no need to add extra imaginary pressure to make it worse.  Once I figured out that I knew best how to parent my son, just as everyone else their own children, it was a much happier place to be.

Enter blogging.  This blog was started to chronicle the journey of doing things I enjoyed again, in addition to parenting.  I never realized how much I would like it.  Writing gives me that time I need to ponder.  The activities that I am blogging about all seem to do the same.  Exercise clears my head to make room for reflection.  Reading helps me think in new ways.  Gardening, cooking and photography are all deliberate, quiet hobbies and give me calm and time to reflect as I do them.  Along with writing my own blog, I've also started to spend more time reading other people's blogs. There are the incredibly beautiful, brilliant, hysterical  authors that I don't know but want to electronically hug.  There are authors that frustrate me, that I don't agree with.  Both help me shape who I am and how I think, and I appreciate them both.   Would I have been the same mom without the internet?  Probably.  Did it make it a little easier? A little more fun?  Yes.  And no matter how big or small, I will take every bit of help I can get.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My perfect pizza

A few months ago, based on the positive experience of a friend who had done the same thing, we signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  In a nutshell, members pay a fee to the farm early in the season, and then get weekly shares of whatever fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest.  Kind of our own farmer's market.  Sandhill Organics is the farm that is providing our bounty, though they are one of many who do this kind of thing.  We missed the first week of the season, so this past Thursday was our first trip to the farm.   My son thinks it is fun to go to the farm for vegetables, my husband and I both really like the idea of supporting local farmers, and the produce is so much tastier than anything I could find in a grocery store.

The farm puts out a weekly newsletter that tells you a little bit about the crops and the going's on at the farm, and then provides a list of what is expected to be ready for that week's pick-up.  We were not signed up for the spring share, but I had been reading the newsletters and was beyond excited to finally get our first pick-up once June rolled around.  They also provide tips for the different items for storage, cooking, and even some recipes, which I find almost as valuable as the actual produce.  It opens a whole new world for us of things we've never eaten before, ways of preparing that we've never tried, and a little extra motivation to use all of produce before it goes bad and we have to throw it away.

This week's pick-up needed two 5-gallon buckets to tote home.  We got raspberries, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, kale, garlic scapes, turnips, baby leeks, a garlic bulb, zucchini, kohlrabi, and popcorn on the cob.  Since we had the newsletter before shopping for the week, we were able to plan our recipes ahead of time to ensure we knew what to do with all of those things.  And surprisingly enough, by the time we have dinner tonight, I bet we'll have eaten through 80% of it in four days.

I can imagine you're asking at least two questions.  First, what is a garlic scape, and who in the world eats kohlrabi?  Second, do you really expect us to believe that your three-year-old is eating all of that?  The answer to the first is that a garlic scape is the flower stalk of a garlic plant, and I don't know who makes a regular habit of kohlrabi, but we used it in a cole slaw and it was quite nice.  As far as my son, well, he eats some of it and some he doesn't.  But since he treats chicken nuggets the same way (he is three, after all), I take that as a victory.

Today's lunch was a meal that I can guarantee I have never eaten before in my life, and it was fantastic.  I sauteed turnips, kale, garlic scapes, and baby leeks in butter, salt, and pepper.

Next, I put it all on top of a store-bought pizza crust, topped it with feta and mozzarella cheese, and put it in the oven for ten minutes.  This beautiful thing is what came out of the oven.  It tasted just as good as it looked.  The sauteed kale and garlic added a zing of flavor, the turnips were buttery and soft with just enough crisp when you bit into them, and the cheese held it all together nicely and added a smooth topper to it all.  Amazing.  Without the recommendation from the Sandhill Organics newsletter, I never would have dreamed of this combination, but I'm so thankful I tried.

I will admit, it is extra work to prepare this kind of weekly menu and the vegetables themselves, and I can image there will be some Thursday nights where I just don't feel like putting forth the effort.  Since one of my initial goals for this year, when I started this blog, was to cook more good meals for my family, this is a home-run solution for at least five months of the year.  I am very excited to be a part of this and hope that it becomes as much of a normal summertime habit as marveling at the impressive locations that weeds take root in my garden.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Attack of the gnome

Six months ago I started to write a blog.  The blog was some extra motivation to make good changes and stick to them so I would have something to write.  Changes were made, and are ongoing, and that is good.  Looking back at my list of posts, I can see that in February that annoying little overachieving gnome started to poke holes in my happy plan.  In March, he took over.  I'm pretty sure that life has been on the downhill of a roller-coaster since then.  Not downhill as in negative, but definitely downhill as in super-speed.  I know it feels like this has been going on for a while, but when I see that I've written two posts in the last three months, it makes it even more clear.  What have I been doing?  I'm not quite sure, it's hard to pick out the shapes in the blur.  There has been plenty of fun mixed in with the work.  There has been cooking, reading, exercise, gardening, picture taking, time with family and time with friends.  But that gnome has been sprinting laps around my brain for three months, reminding me of all the to-do's that are sitting and waiting for me, and I think it's about time to make it stop.  The to-do's will never go away, and that's ok.  But that gnome, I think it's time to send him on a long vacation, and while he's gone try to figure out how to send him on a swim with the fishes.

So, today is a new day.  Thanks to a long vacation with family, I'm rested.  Thanks to a quiet morning with my son, and a leisurely walk with the dog, I'm relaxed.  Thanks to this post, I'm ready to get back to doing awesome things and blogging about them.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Adventures in houseplantery

I really do like plants.  I like to garden, I like to have houseplants, I like how they look when I take the time to tend them.  I'm guessing you can see where this is going, so, not surprisingly, I don't always have the time to tend the plants as I would like.  Luckily for me, the houseplants in my home have been with me since I lived in my own apartment, and they are quite used to not seeing me for long stretches of time.  Every year one of the items on my to-do list is "Re-pot plants," and that item just never seems to get crossed off.  Until this weekend!

Most of these houseplants are still with me, and I feel compelled to keep in good, oh who am I kidding, alive condition, because of how I acquired them.  People very generously sent many plants and flowers when one of my Grandmas passed away about 10 years ago, and I ended up taking home a basket that had a beautiful little arrangement of tiny green houseplants.  I'll be honest here, I can't be completely certain that each of the plants I now own came from that basket, but since perception is reality, in my mind they all did.  So it just doesn't seem ok to give up on any of the plants, even if they never get watered enough, grow in crazy directions to get to the sun, or grow to over 5 feet tall.  I don't even know what some of them are, though I've tried to look up pictures on the internet, and quickly forgotten what I found.

I bought some pots on clearance from the floral section of the grocery store shortly after Valentine's Day, and this weekend I finally got around to using them.  First, I pruned and re-potted a poinsettia.  This one is not from the basket collection,  it is from a few Christmases ago, but it seems nice enough to keep around still. (I realize now that "before" pictures would have been helpful here, but you get to just enjoy the finished products.  Maybe it's better that way.)

Next I split an African Violet that had grown into two completely separate plants without my involvement.  I guess a lot of years left to fend for yourself necessitates growing a friend.  That friend now gets a pot all its own.  Maybe I should keep them next to each other so nobody gets lonely....

After that, I pruned one of the plants I cannot name, one of those viney things where you can grow totally new plants just from putting a leaf in water.  I trimmed off the long tendrils and planted a few pieces into a new pot to take to work.  I have had a spot selected for this plant in my cubicle for about a year now.  Probably should dust off the shelf before I set it down.
This particular plant has been shared with many people, and that's my favorite part about keeping this one going.  My Grandmother used to always have a row of little glasses on the windowsill growing new African Violets from little leaves that she would give to shut-ins from her church.  I'm using a different plant for my sharing, but the concept is still the same, and I think that is cool.

Finally, the beast.  The 5-foot-tall palm-tree-looking thing that may or not be a dracaena, based on my internet searching.  It has been way too big and not impressive looking for years, and I finally faced the truth that this thing had to go.  I solicited some ideas from Facebook friends, but in the end my husband recommended lopping off the top to try and grow new roots and start over, which I agreed would be as good a shot as any.  I also saw some gardening advice on the internet where they said you might be able to grow new sprouts from the top of the "trunk," so I'm hoping one of the two work.  To the right, the top.  Below, the trunk, with a little baggie tent with spritzed water to keep the top moist.

I feel SO much better having done this little project, I've been looking at these sad plants for far too long.  I am anxious to see what happens with the tall plant that basically had its middle removed.  Though based on how long it lived in a pot that was too small and alternating between drought and flood conditions, it's certainly much stronger than I think.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Two happy things

I've missed writing for you.  A busy schedule makes for both little time and low inspiration.  Since my last post not much has changed.  Scheduling goes in ups and downs in our family, and we are currently going through one heck of an up.  But I am stealing a few minutes today to share two things that have made me happy.

First, a book.  Not any of the grown-up books I have been diving back into, but a children's book.  In almost three years of parenting, this has taken over as my favorite.  You Are Special, by Max Lucado, warms my heart every time I read it to my son.  It's about the Wemmicks, wooden puppets who live in a land created by the puppet-maker Eli.  They spend their days giving each other stickers; stars for good things, dots for bad.  The story centers around Punchinello, a puppet who has a lot of dots.  I read it the first time to my son without having read it to myself before, and I had to choke back tears a little to keep going.  I know he doesn't understand the underlying meaning yet, just the story of puppets, but if he at least hangs onto a little piece of the message, I'll be happy.  I actually think there are a lot of adults who would benefit from the message, too.  So if you're in the library sometime and have a few minutes to spare, find it.  I've actually just discovered that this is part of a series, so I'm going to have to do some searching for the others.  This one though, stands just fine on its own.

Next, a blog.  I should explain first that I avoid the website Pinterest at all costs.  Something about it has always just made me feel uneasy.  It stressed me out from the moment I opened the home page, and I quickly left.  I also remember commenting when I had an infant and was reading a lot of parenting magazines that they just made me feel like every other mother in the world had more time, creativity, and awesome skills than I did.  Enter this blog, "Your Children want YOU", which perfectly explained to me why those things caused me anxiety.  I am very grateful to the author April Perry, for a nice little slap to the side of the head to remind me that I am the awesomest.  (brief disclaimer, I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the website that this blog is posted on, so I can't speak to the quality of The Power of Moms site.  But this particular blog is darn good.)

So that's what I've got for now.  Hope to see you again soon with stories of more awesomeness.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Limit Reached

I set out a few months ago with an ambitious list of things I wanted to accomplish.  And in true me fashion, I took that list with the intention of tackling the whole thing.  And in true me fashion, I found the proverbial wall and crashed into it with impressive force.

I have incorporated a lot of the things I wanted to do.  That includes both actions and schedule fillers and also just a better awareness for myself of  what I want to use my time doing.  And I'm happy with what I've done.  But, I'm tapped out.  All of the sudden all of the things, more prayer, more cooking, more reading, more exercise, more family time, more time with friends, more focused parenting, more time outside, more more more MORE MORE MORE MORE has gotten to the point of, well, too many "mores".  But it is also the season where it gets nicer outside and all of the sudden the schedule of things to do explodes.  But the problem is that I don't want to stop or slow down on any of the things I've added.  So somehow I have to figure out how to reorganize what I have with what is coming.  Now I have to make room for gardening and forest preserve walks and baseball games and swimming and vacations, and whatever else summer brings.  Which is all good stuff.  But my brain starts to smoke a little when I think about managing it all.  And I kind of just want to crawl onto the couch and turn it all off and pretend I have plenty of time to do whatever I want.

But I can't.  So I won't.  I'll figure it out.  I think.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mommy, Mommy, what do you hear?

There are certain sounds that always make me smile.  Happy birds twittering in the yard (after I'm awake).  The powerful crescendo of a beautiful song.  The soundtrack to the movie Hoosiers.  The laughter of children.  I would bet that some may not agree with all of those items, but most probably can't help but enjoy the genuine laughter of little kids.  I got to spend my morning today surrounded by that beautiful sound.
We took our son to see the production of Treasured Stories of Eric Carle, performed by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia.   It was simple, colorful, and stunning.  And the kids there roared and squealed and clapped and laughed and it was awesome.  

Going into the show I was curious what they would do.  I've read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and "Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you see?" and I couldn't help but wonder how they would stretch these very simple and brief stories into more than 8 minutes of show.  But they did, and it was a good reminder to me that we adults don't always have to be in such a hurry.  They took their time with every moment of every scene and had the entire audience captivated.  An entire audience of antsy, twitchy, short-attention-spanned children, mind you.  And they made it clear from the beginning that this was a "shoosh-free" show.  How liberating for all those kids to not have to be quiet, whisper, sit still, be proper, get scolded, and all that other boring stuff that happens when you go places with adults.  They could laugh, point, ask questions, give away the ending, and no one cared.

Before the show, as we sat in the lobby and waited to find our seats, my husband made the observation that it was very heavily girl-populated.  To which I replied, "well, that's no surprise, look at who primarily attends theater events as adults?" And I have to say I find that so sad.  I can say with total certainty that my son, his friend, and the entire rest of the little boys there enjoyed every second of this the same as the girls.  I won't deny that I enjoy playing, watching, following, teaching, and any other possible action you can take in relation to sports, and I see that my son is well on his way to picking up the same traits.  But I also see that he loves to dance to music, and paint, and read books, and sing songs, and it is really important to me to encourage him to do all of those things too.  It doesn't come as naturally to me to remember those things, but when I do, it is so worth it.  The excitement in his voice every time he has talked about since is more powerful than any motivational speaker on the planet.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Life can be separated by many different generic stages.  Childhood / Young Adult / Adult/ Senior.  Pre-college / College / Post college.  Single / Married.  Pre-kids / Post-kids / Post-grand-kids.  Jobs / Career.  Today I came upon the idea that I can also break my life into chapters based on church.  We worshiped with our Goddaughter and her family at the church we transferred from about a year ago, and sitting there was a very pleasant reminder to me of where I've been.

So far I have spent most of my life in three different churches.  For most of my childhood I attended the same church, which I almost now consider my parents' church.  I find it kind of odd that I view it that way, since I went through first communion, confirmation, graduation, and my wedding at that church, which encompasses about half of my life.  But I guess in all things, once you're an adult you feel more ownership of the things that you do, rather than just being a tag-along. So that church now, which was such a constant for so many years, has become Chapter 1.

Present day, Chapter 3, we are at a new, well, new to us, church.  We have been there about a year, and really just starting to get more involved and take ownership of our role as members.  It will be the first church my son remembers, and maybe even the one he looks back on and dubs his parents' church.  Chapter 2, then, is the church we visited today.  That was the first church my husband and I joined together after we were married.  I think we were there about six years, until a few months after our son was baptized.  I sat there looking around and couldn't help but think about the people we were during the time we spent there.  What was happening, how we lived, who we spent time with.   I sat with my little blessing on my lap, staring at the same cross at the front of the church that I stared at for all those prayers to bring him safely into our lives.

The person staring at each of those three different crosses at the front of each church is so very different.  The first was filled with the confusion and distraction of everything that goes into growing up.  The second was consumed with marriage and home ownership and work and family.  Well, I supposed the third is currently consumed with the same types of thoughts, but at a different stage.  I'm not quite the newbie to any of that anymore like I was then.  But I recognize now what I didn't then, that things are happening.  Now that the book is a little longer, there are more chapters to show me where this story is going.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Free Fallin'

I have been very blessed over the last few months to have many opportunities to write about positive changes I have been making.  Today I want to share with you my regression.

I have a toddler.  Ergo, I have stress.  This is not shocking to anyone, nor to myself.  But even having a very clear understanding and anticipation that a boulder is going to fall on you doesn't make it feel any lighter when it does.  This day.....oh, this day.  This day has been a shake-your-head kind of day.  I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work longer days and be off on Fridays.  I know that this is a privilege many working moms would love to have.  And days like today make me feel completely ungrateful and wasteful of this beautiful privilege.  Because really, my most stressful days at work don't even hold a candle to what I feel when there is stress on Friday.  Work would be easy.

He is going to be three in a few months.  There has been some turnover in the teachers at his daycare.  He has been fighting eye, nose, chest cold stuff for two weeks.  I get it, he has stress too, and good reason to act the way he is today.  Every request I make floats out in the air never to be noticed.  Every question I ask to get a positive response elicits a no.  All movement at the speed of turtle.  Blank stares.  Every one of mommy's buttons pushed, pushed, and pushed again.  Is any of this behavior really that awful?  No.  But OH MY STARS does it test my patience.

Patience.  That virtue is one that I clearly have not passed the exam on, because God continues, and continues, and continues, to keep teaching me lessons.  Most of every difficult time I can think back on, when I came out on the other side of it, I was pretty sure that it was meant to be a lesson in patience.  And every time, I wonder if I finally learned it correctly that time.  So either I am the worst patience student and am going to be spending every class, every detention, and every summer school continuing to try and get this, or I am dead wrong and completely missing the point.  But, I'm pretty sure the point is patience.  And I'm not good at it.

I am pleased with myself that instead of cozying up in the corner with a party-size bag of M&Ms during nap time, I only grabbed three pieces of dark chocolate, which I am just finishing up now as I write.  Thank you, dear reader, for helping me bring my blood pressure down and hopefully step back from the ledge before nap time ends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pretty Music

I had never met my freshman college roommate before we lived in the dorm together.  She was awesome and had so many unique views on life that I still keep with me today.  She loved music.  She played the viola (called it her fiddle), enjoyed classical music, and also had a cd collection that ranged from Tori Amos to Korn, and a lot of everything in between.  But it was all "pretty music."  "I like pretty music," she would smile, whether her ears were ringing from headbanging or putting her viola back in her case.  It makes me grin just to type it.

This past weekend I got to go see some pretty music. One of my oldest friends surprised me with tickets to see an acoustic show by members of a band we have been fans of for almost 20 years, Marty and Wayne of Freddy Jones Band.  Acoustic music is one of my favorites.  Not just music that is meant to be played acoustically, but more so those songs that you get to know in a totally different style that sound brand new and amazing when you hear them with just a guitar and a voice.

The venue was small, and the kind that I have only seen on tv.  Small tables with candles, up close and personal, wine in a glass bigger than anything I own at home.  They sounded right on.  Interesting banter, some songs I knew, some that I didn't.  It was late (by my current standards, anyway), I was out, and I loved every minute.

Getting to that point took some planning, as all things do when you're a mom.  My son got to spend the night with his Aunt and Uncle, and while he is old enough that I no longer feel stressed about someone else taking care of him, I still had the general parental stress that just comes with the job when you hand over your child and hope they don't do something crazy.  Waking up without an alarm or a stuffed animal in my face, with the sun shining brightly in the room, was very, very strange.  But good strange.  And instead of being sad that the night out was over, I was charged up from the relaxation and enjoyment of the night and excited to go and see him again.  I also was pleasantly surprised that I felt no guilt for being out and spending me time.  That is new for me.  The night out came in the midst of a full weekend of various family activities, so that probably helped.  A little me time sandwiched in between a lot of non-me time.  Further proof that it is all about balance.  Too much of anything, except maybe chocolate, is never healthy.

I like pretty music.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On a roll

If you're writing an article about how to find more "me" time, chances are good that your audience is a group of pretty busy people.  So I had to laugh when I read some "creative" tips.  The first was to set my alarm a half  hour earlier, the second was stay up later at night.  I don't know what the other ones were, because I quickly realized it was not worth my time.  If I had that kind of flexibility, I wouldn't need to read the article.  4:45 a.m. til 10-ish is plenty of hours to be awake already, thank you.  WOW am I thankful I've been able to carve out some time without the sage advice of that author.

I'm happy to report that exercise has finally found an audience in our house again.  Luckily my husband accepted my challenge to eat better and exercise more with me, because I think we're both better off when the other is involved.  The trade-off is that our days have been extended, and the relaxing part of the evening has gotten much shorter.  After our family dinner, one of us takes on bath and toddler tv time, and the other heads off to do whatever the exercise is for that evening.  Then we switch, and one puts our son to bed while the other is off.  Though if I'm doing bath time, I normally don't exercise those nights, because by the time it is my turn I've already been awake for 15 hours and am starting to shut down.  So once the parenting, chores, and exercise is done, it's almost 9:00 and that's that.  Imagining this schedule for the rest of my life is pretty daunting, but I realize I won't always work the schedule that I do, and I won't always have a child that is completely dependent on me, and this won't be the only way to fit in exercise.  I've accepted this craziness for now.  Also, if I can do this when it's cold and dark outside, lighter and warmer days will only help.

I don't have a set routine or plan, I just want to make sure I'm spending 30-45 minutes a few days a week doing something exercise-related.  Anything more specific, more targeted, and I will probably fail.  At earlier times in my life, this would have been unacceptable.  There were strategic attacks, well-calculated, with a specific end goal.  I'm proud of myself that I am just trying to be healthy, and that's enough.  It's hard enough to accomplish that without sacrificing the family time that is so important, so I'm completely comfortable leaving it at that.

That doesn't mean the competitive beast in me isn't still hanging around.  I still pay attention to how I'm doing and if I'm raising the bar each time.  I use the CardioTrainer App on my phone to keep track of time, distance, calories, etc., and it really is a motivating tool for me.  I also post the work-out updates to Facebook, which I'm sure is annoying to most and nobody cares, but it keeps me accountable to myself.  Just the illusion that the collective "someone" knows when I do and don't exercise gets me up and moving when the couch and my slippers are much more inviting.  I've kept this up for about two months now, which has broken all kinds of wimpy records set in the past three years.  Combined with some major diet changes, (more on that another time), results are obvious and exciting.  Want to help?  Hold me accountable.  Ask me how it's going.  Mention it when you haven't seen any work-out blogs or posts lately.  Join me so I can do the same for you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If you build it...

Remember when I said I started feeding the birds again?  This weekend is the first time I refilled one of the three feeders, the one that hangs in front of our living room window.  The two in the backyard are still full from a month ago.  It has been slow going.  But, they come occasionally, and I think once spring comes around, the birds will too.  Every evening after work I look to see if the level of seed has gone done, and any day that I am home I can't walk walk past a window without peeking to see if they're there.  We get very excited when we spot a bird actually using the feeders.

Today, however, brought a whole new level of HOLY COW to the bird feeding experience.

The feeder that I just refilled is literally right on the other side of the living room window, about a foot away from the window.  It hangs just above our evergreen bushes, in which the sparrows like to hang about and lounge in between feedings. In fact, when I filled the feeder yesterday, I dropped the bag of seed with a loud thud, and then jumped out of my skin as 6-8 sparrows took off to another tree that wasn't so close to me.  We even have an occasional chipmunk that crawls up and gets its head stuck inside the feeder once it fills its cheeks, and then plummets into the bushes once it finally figures out how to pull its head out.  So there is quite a bit of movement and life around there, even when the feeding is slow going.

I was talking to my husband in the living room while my son took a nap today.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see over his shoulder and out the window to the feeder.  Mid-sentence I froze, and I think I repeated OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH a handful of times before I figured out that I should probably tell my husband to turn around.  A red-tail hawk swooped in and just sat on top of the evergreen next to the feeder, eyes fixed down to the ground, probably searching for a bird or chipmunk.  It jumped around to different parts of the bushes, flew over to the front porch, and then flew away.  I saw it later soaring over the houses behind us, still hunting.

I didn't have my phone on me to be able to take a picture, and there is no way I was going to step away to get it, because I knew this wouldn't last long.  So this picture is something similar to the one we saw today.  It was huge and impressive and I can't believe it was sitting right outside my window. I'm also glad my dog is 30 pounds, because that hawk looked awfully hungry, and I would feel a little anxious about letting him out in the yard for a few days.

So, I guess I don't quite have the bustling hot-spot of bird-feeding yards quite yet, but the cool factor of the hawk will last me a while.  Perhaps that's why I don't have a bustling hot-spot, maybe the little birds have been enduring close encounters with this hawk and are choosing to stay hidden.  We'll see what the spring brings.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I think it is safe to say I have never had any experience cooking Polish dishes.  But, my husband has Polish heritage, so I've eaten my share from my Mother-in-law's kitchen.  Thanks to her for sending me this totally unique recipe for Polish Dill Pickle Soup. Watching the snow fall and the wind whipping around the neighborhood, tonight was a perfect night to try it out.

I would put dill on ice cream if I could, as it is one of my favorite tastes, so this soup intrigued me.  I want to try it again in the summer when our garden dill is in full bloom.  Today I pretty much stuck to the recipe, with a few minor changes.  First, we had leftover pork roast from earlier in the week, so I didn't cook it from raw.  I don't think I used quite as many pickles as it calls for.  I also added carrots to get a vegetable in there.  There is nothing hard about this recipe, basically chop, simmer, eat.  Perfect type of recipe for me.

There was something strangely satisfying about two steps of the prep process.  The amount of dill pickles and ketchup that the recipe called for offered a unique opportunity to use a LOT more of those ingredients than I ever do.  So I actually opened a new jar of pickles and used the entire thing at one time.  Usually those jars sit in our fridge for several seasons.  And I got to squeeze a whole cup of ketchup out of the bottle at once.  When else do you ever have the chance to squeeze a ketchup bottle for longer than half a second?  I know, I know, the little things in life amuse me.

The flavor is one I've never tasted, and very good.  It's a hearty soup, you'll be full very quickly.  It's not bad on the healthy scale, a lot of vitamins and minerals, but also pretty high on sodium.  I think the next time I make it I will opt for water instead of pickle juice, and will use a little less pickle and add lots of fresh dill.  I did a search for pickle soup recipes, and it is interesting to see all the different ingredients people put in it.  I really enjoyed this basic recipe though, and besides those few changes I just mentioned, I'll stick with this one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Check, check, and check

I read an article today about the positive effects of artistic expression, specifically art, music, and writing.  It mentioned a few different studies that have been done, but didn't cite any directly, so I unfortunately can't share more details for anyone who is interested. I certainly don't have to be convinced that these effects are real; I have long been a proponent and benefactor of being involved in the arts.  But in this article, the piece about writing caught my attention.

"Writing seems to curtail symptoms associated with chronic disease, promote immune response, and lower stress, according to various studies.....Not only does it de-clutter thoughts, it can relieve tension, inspire problem solving, and offer insight into psychological and emotional burdens that stifle wellness."

If I step back and look at my blogging experience so far, I can see all of those things happening.  Well, I can't really speak to curtailing symptoms associated with chronic disease, talk to me in 20 years and I'll let you know how that is working out for me.  Also, I don't have any objective evidence to support a strengthened immune response, because I haven't really been doing this long enough for any point of comparison.  But for all that other stuff, there is no doubt.

My first blog rattled off a list of things I wanted to do.  At the time, that list seemed massive and unattainable.  But I have accomplished at least a start to quite a few of those things.  And really, really, enjoying them.  Writing about what I want to do and then writing about doing it is both a motivational tool and positive reinforcement to keep doing more.  I was really bothered by the lack of all those wants/needs being absent in my life, and writing has provided a path to change that.  

I have even noticed the negatively-overachieving part of my personality starting to creep back and poke questions into my happy little hobby nirvana.  Meals are being cooked, chores are being completed, errands are being run, parenting and fun is ongoing, exercise is slowly increasing, bills are being paid, to-do lists are being worked on, and I'm still finding time to enjoy hobbies I haven't paid attention to in a long time.  Yet I am still always wondering if there is something I am forgetting, some task, some project, something that is going to fall apart or explode. Then that little overachieving gnome is going to crawl out of the shadows and smugly say, while waggling a pointy finger at me, "See?!  SEE?!  I told you so.  You can't possibly have time for you, LOOK at what happened!"  I recognize now that sending that gnome back to the shadows every now and again is a good thing.  Until recently, he constantly sat on my shoulder whispering endless checklists as the soundtrack of my day.  So if that's not "insight into psychological and emotional burdens that stifle wellness," I don't know what is.

So I write.  Sometimes I'll have no choice but to abandon ship and go back to the check-lists and the stress.  Somebody just make sure to keep the gnome patrol on speed-dial.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sometimes it's just that easy

I'm amazed at my obliviousness sometimes.  Here I am, going about trying to come up with just the right plan/time/process to spend more time reading the Bible.  And the answer that swings in and hits me on the side of my head?  My two-year-old.  Nine times out of ten when he wants to read a book, he goes to his Bible.  His was a gift from the church at his baptism.  We've never told him he should read it every day, he knows nothing of the rest of us grown-ups adding "read more Bible" to countless to-do lists, he just loves that book.  He can flip through the whole thing, point to a picture and tell me the story.  Could I point to a chapter in the Bible and do that?  Not many of them.  So tonight as we were rocking in his chair before bed, reading about Jesus and Mary, I almost stopped and laughed when I realized that I, in fact, have been reading the Bible every day.  So it's got pictures, and the stories are paraphrased and a bit happier than my tiny text version, but does that matter?  Certainly not.  Sometimes it's just that easy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stepping back, looking forward

About a month ago, I decided to write a blog.  In making that decision, I set some pretty lofty goals for myself to make some changes.  The changes themselves weren't exactly lofty, but because I had been struggling to find the opportunity to do any of them for so long, just the idea of accomplishing one felt like a stretch.  Now that this first month has passed, I want to do a little review, a re-cap, to hold myself accountable to what I originally set out to do.  Maybe I'll continue to do this review monthly.  Maybe I'll be doing so well, or so poorly, that I won't find it necessary.  So what have I done?

Well, not all of my original changes have even been possible yet.  Gardening, painting walls, hanging more pictures, all projects for another time.  Seeing more amazing nature I suppose could have been possible, but I haven't made the effort to go out beyond the normal.  I did see a lot of pretty snow-covered things around the neighborhood.  But that's not what I was aiming for.

Keeping in more constant contact with friends and family.....  No, I don't think I've made any progress on this one, but I don't think it was a complete failure either.  Normal life has kept much of that in the forefront anyway, but additional effort has not been made.  Honestly kind of forgot about this.

Want to take better pictures.....This is not a happy topic for me.  I adore taking and sharing pictures.  We don't have a fancy camera, but it has done a great job the past few years.  It is now ready to take a ride to the farm.  But I don't want to go out and get another low-end camera that is going to do this again.  So I must wait.  And take dark, slightly out-of-focus, occasionally perfect, usually not, pictures.  This is just going to have to sit along with the other projects on the shelf.

Need to pray more....You know, this one has in fact seen some progress.  I am a part of a weekly prayer group at church with some very inspiring friends.  Thanks to God's work through them, I am getting better.  Much work to be continued, however.

Need to read more scripture....I made an attempt at this one, and it was not successful.  Happy I tried something, determined to find another way.

Want to bake more...nope.  And now that I am trying to eat better, this project gets shelved for a bit also.  At least until I have time to uncover healthy baking things.  Which leads me into...Want to cook more good meals...This is another that I think has made progress.  I'm not by any means doing anything gourmet or impressive, but I'm trying new things and just plain old cooking more, and getting out of the recipe rut.

Want to read...Not only have I read, I read TWO books in one month!  Without pictures!  And the group of friends I have joined in a book club are all very avid and enthusiastic readers, which will only encourage me more.

Need to exercise...According to the CardioTrainer app on my phone, which I adore, I have exercised 13 times in the past month.  That's not great, but it's better than it has been in the past.  And now that I have challenged my husband to join me in exercising more and eating healthier, I am guaranteed to do it more often, because I do NOT like to lose challenges with him.

What a busy month!  I haven't even mentioned my favorite part of all these challenges, which is writing the blog.  I love writing this blog.  Thank you to all of you who have read it and given me such encouraging feedback to continue.  I suppose I would enjoy the process whether anyone read it or not, but really it is so much more fun when I get to hear your experiences and feedback also.  Bring on February!

Friday, January 27, 2012

For my boys

This blog is a lot about me.  Sure, there may be some anecdotes about you guys now and again, but the whole purpose of this blog is to celebrate me doing things I want to do.  I know you support this endeavor, but just in case there is every any confusion, let me set the record straight.

To my amazing husband:  You married the person I was almost nine years ago.  And yes, while I agree that I have become oh so much better with age, as have you, there still were a lot of things about nine-years-ago me that were awesome.  So I'm trying to get to a blend of them both, kind of a Me 2.0.  I know that you like this idea and want me to continue, but just to be clear, this is not an escape from anyone or anything.  You know that more than anyone, I suppose, because you are a part of, or right next to, all of the activities that I write about.  Assuming that you read them.  Sorry, just couldn't resist that one.  A joke filled with love :)

To my beautiful son:  One day you might actually read this blog.  Such a strange thought today, but it won't seem strange for long.  And you'll probably read my Facebook posts too, because oh yes, I will be a friend, and I will know your password so that I can jump on in and check your stuff at any old time.  There will be SO many things you will see about you.  Some good, some frustrating, some funny, some sentimental.  And no matter how much I might talk about the challenge of parenting, there aren't enough years on this planet to talk about the joys.  Please don't think that any part of this whole me blog is any statement about wishing for a different lifestyle.  Knowing that you watch every single move I make and hear every word I say is the single most motivating thing for me wanting to better myself.  I want you to know who I am, not just as your Mom, but as a person, and I want us both to be proud of who that person is.

And then there is you, Hoosier.  Not to worry, you have not been forgotten, though I think we all know you spend a little more time watching and waiting for us than any of us would like.  You were the first baby of this family, albeit a fuzzy one, and even though you're not quite the crazy pup you used to be, you're still always going to be our first puppy.  As soon as this whole exercise topic improves, you will definitely benefit from that too, because there's a big world out there with all kinds of paths to be sniffed.

Even without enough exercise, time to read, time to cook, etc etc, I am definitely a much better version of me than I was nine years ago.  That version didn't have the three of you.  I had NO idea what was coming.  Wonder what the eight-years-in-the-future version of me has in store?